When I was asked to attend Sunday’s portion of the Saint Lucia Food & Rum Festival 2018, I was unusually intrigued. Having been back on island a little over one year now I had not attended any main stage events — including but not limited to festivals, as I had fallen into old ways of staying as far away from large crowds as possible. Supposedly Tourism Minister Dominic Fedee was right: rum may very well be a proud part of our heritage, along with food, as little else seemed reason enough for why a hermit like myself would be giddy to see what was in store at Pigeon Island’s National Park in the then, near future.
Sunday came at the end of what seemed a weekend dampened by sporadic bursts of rain. Once I made it to the park, however, the sky offered me and other festival-goers sunshine through a few scattered clouds. I arrived about two hours into the event to a park just barely dotted with people, and though the thought that attendance was underwhelming crossed my mind, I breathed a sigh of relief as few people meant easy access to the food.
I visited the labeled booths one by one – they were tagged with the origins of their culinary teams: Capella Marigot Bay Resort & Marina, Cap Maison, The Landings, Jade Mountain, Anse Chastanet, Windjammer Landing, Bay Gardens Resorts, Fantastic Cuisine & Bar, Fond Doux Plantation & Resort. Menus, of course, featured an assortment of Lucian plate regulars like fried okra and bouillon. Food costs were fairly reasonable, but whether portions were satisfactory depended on the buyer — I found them to be small but this met and did not fall short of my expectations. I ordered a salt fish slider, fried okra and breadfruit balls (at the time my palate seemed to develop a sudden aversion to the idea of rum-infused dishes) but for dessert I helped myself to rum-filled chocolate truffles and a chocolate cupcake. My quick food review: everything tasted great. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on what reaction my body may have chosen to have towards alcohol that day) I was there to do a job, so the cocktail booths did not see much of me. I limited myself to locally-made juice, grapefruit to be exact, and later on into the evening a Red Berries-flavoured Strongbow.
As for entertainment, the finals of the Chairman’s Spiced Rum Cocktail Challenge were held on stage. The five bartenders who had won their places out of a group of sixteen during earlier events in the festival, were given fifteen minutes to prepare cocktail recipes using their picks from the unveiled secret ingredients: passionfruit, cinnamon sticks, ginger, coffee, mint leaves, carrots amongst a long list of other items. In the end, Travis George from Windjammer Landing was awarded third place, Dwight Joseph of Coco Palm came in second and Bertrand Sydney of Bodyholiday Resort ran away with the win and prizes including a weekend for two at Bay Gardens Beach Resort, products from Saint Lucia Distillers, a cash prize of $2,000 and a gold medal!
The event was topped off by two musical performances. First up was internationally renowned musician Freddie Jackson who serenaded the crowd (which had nearly tripled by then) with smooth lyrics and melodies. Then local soca powerhouse Teddyson John took over the stage. After all has been said and done, one thing’s for sure, despite claims that food and rum are significant parts of our heritage, it appears music trumps all. The event’s closing performances seemed to be the highlight for many, particularly the ladies!